This is an unmarked alley that runs under the DLR and railway tracks into Fenchurch Street and somehow survives as a narrow smelly dank alley way. So obviously, it’s marvelous.

The first this was to find out if the alley has a name, and how long it has been here.

The Fairthorn map of 1658 shows a row of houses lining the road with fields behind, and no alley or path. John Rocque’s map of 1746 shows the first indication of the alley, as the area is built up with warehouses and just behind, the London Infirmary. It’s shown as Abel’s Build, which may have been a shortened Abel’s Buildings, which was the name of an alley that lead off from this one.

However, Horwood’s Plan of 1799 clearly shows a yard called Whites Build, probably related to White’s Yard, the road just to the south.

Much of the land was cleared for the arrival of the railway, but the alley managed to cling on, presumably as a useful cut through the railway arches, but by now it was much diminished, and also no longer being named on more recent maps.

In fact, rather oddly the only map today that puts a name to the alley is Open Street Maps, who have adopted the early Abel’s Buildings name. Recent planning applications — usually a mine of information — just refer to it as alley or public pathway.

Adding to its curiosity, on the north side, it’s a narrow gap in a modern hotel, which was itself converted from offices in the 1990s. While the hotel looks like a single building, it’s legally three separate plots, and the alley passes between numbers 9 and 9 Chamber Street.

A small kink in the path, and then it passes under the railway arches, past a dumped sofa, and the strong smell of urine, before heading out into sunlit lands of Royal Mint Street, and the steel fencing that keeps people from wandering into the car park next door.

It’s a narrow alley that’s the sort of place that town planners put on their lists for social improvements, or would be an achingly fashionable slice of Shoreditch. Here, in Shadwell, it’s rich in the flavours of danger and decay, and hence utterly wonderful.

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2 comments on “London’s Alleys: Abel’s Buildings, E1
  1. Ricky says:

    I work near here and pass one end of this on my way to and from. It is certainly ‘narrow smelly and dank’, and a few other things as well. I have never seen anyone use it who didn’t look as if they were up to no good! As you say, wonderful.

    But I don’t think you can say it’s in Shadwell – it’s one of those bits of London that sits between other places, perhaps Whitechapel is least inaccurate. It was once known as Wellclose, after the ex-square on the other side of Dock Street. There is an enormous development of luxury flats going up on Royal Mint St by the southern end of the alley and I strongly suspect that the inhabitants of those will look unkindly upon its charms.

  2. Matthew Smith says:

    I’ve stayed in the hotel and weirdly to get to my room on the ground floor I had to go through a fire exit and across the alleyway and then through another door to where my room was in what is essentially a separate annexe. Very strange setup.

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